SLUG: 2-309863 Italy/Iraq (L)
BYLINE= SABINA CASTELFRANCO
INTRO: The bodies of 18 Italians killed in a suicide bombing in southern Iraq earlier this week returned to Rome on Saturday. The bodies were flown back on a military transport plane. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.
TEXT: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, political and military leaders, and the relatives of the dead, were present at Rome's Ciampino airport when the C-130 aircraft landed.
Eighteen coffins draped in the Italian flag were brought out of the plane. They included the bodies of 16 military personnel and two civilians. They were killed when a truck bomb exploded at the Italian military base in southern Iraq on Wednesday.
Italian television networks interrupted their regular programming to provide live coverage of the plane's arrival.
The death toll from the bombing rose to 19 Italians today after a 22-year-old comatose soldier's life support system was switched off. The attack in Nasiriyah killed the highest number of Italian military officials since World War Two.
The coffins were taken to a morgue where relatives of the victims will have time to pay their respects in private. On Monday the coffins will be laid in state at the Vittoriano monument in central Rome where public viewing has been planned.
State funerals will be held at Saint Paul's basilica in Rome on Tuesday which has been declared a national day of mourning. (Signed)
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